Cardinal John Henry Newman is pictured in an 1860 or 1861 photo provided by the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory. Pope Benedict XVI is to preside at his beatification in Birmingham Sept. 19 during his four-day visit to Britain. His feast day will be Oct. 9 -- not the date of his death, which is typical for feast days, but the date of his passage from Anglicanism into the Catholic Church. (CNS, courtesy of Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory) (Sept. 15, 2010) See NEWMAN-DATE (UPDATED) Sept. 15, 2010.

[For more context about Discourse VIII, see Part 1]

During the summer months, young students of many families have time to reflect and pray about the coming school year. St. John Henry Newman’s eighth Discourse of The Idea of a University provides ample, but often misunderstood, material with which to exercise discernment and prudence about education. 

Discourse VIII famously extols, then paradoxically criticizes, the “gentleman.” The human formation of a liberal education can do great things, but education alone is not the source of moral formation or supernatural grace. Without the integration of virtue and faith, education alone, even at its best, can produce only the polished surface of a “mere gentleman.”

To make his point about the inadequacies of education without religion, Newman constructs a darkly humorous parody of what the “religion” of the intellect would look like without the Church. Without the Church, one pursuing intellectual truth tends to idolize “Reason,” initiated into academic mysteries, having a warped faith in his own intellect. Newman warns of the danger of rationalism; without being checked by God’s revealed truth spoken by the Church, education will not only fail to thrive, but may also swell into a kind of humanistic church, worshiping not the true God, but worshiping one made in man’s own image, human reason itself, as if the schools alone possess the mysteries of existence and provide for all of the needs of humanity.

Reason can only take us so far; left to itself, it tends to worship itself and forget about the demands of reality and of God. Cultivating intellect is supremely important, and can increase man’s dispositions and capacities to know the truth. But rational mastery of truth does not constitute true conversion, which is an act of will. Nonetheless, in viewing reason and its tendencies outside of the Catholic fold, Newman looks to Catholicism “chiefly as a system of pastoral instruction and moral duty,” directing the “conscience and conduct” of man in his “ruined state” and his call to heaven by Christ’s redemption. He does think that the “cultivated intellect” formed in sound education might be more inclined to hear and heed this divine call. Religious and intellectual development complement each other; religion shows man that he has a mind made to glorify his Creator through rational knowledge, and intellectual pursuit grants him an appetite for truth that inclines him to its fullness, the realities and mysteries of a Creator God who redeems fallen men and calls them to rationally share his divine life by knowing him, face to face, for all eternity. Reason requires faith, and when joined to it, is of utmost importance and service to Christianity.

While robust integration is the ideal goal, it is far more dangerous to pursue reason without faith than faith without reason. Left to itself, pursuit of reason tends to create an outward show of morality without regenerating the heart. It cultivates humans whose formation is all on the surface. There is no healthy fear of God rooted in the conscience, no sense of having offended God’s Almighty benevolence by our sins, no affective love for the truth of ourselves and the world. The only fear in the cult of reason is “self-reproach” for having not fully discovered what is “fitting and becoming,” and fear of public shame. “Sin” becomes merely sin against “Intellect,” or ignorance, and “conscience tends to become what is called a moral sense; the command of duty is a sort of taste; sin is not an offense against God, but against human nature.” The conscience is demoted from that which instructs us of our duty before God, and merely becomes a vain worry to appear knowledgeable, tasteful, or moral before others. Moral conscientiousness is flattened into a temporally enlightened mannerism that defers to the arbitrary social standards and tastes of the time. This education is all on the surface; it requires nothing of the will, the heart, or the soul, and lacks any ultimate meaning. “To seem becomes to be; what looks fair will be good, what causes offense will be evil; virtue will be what pleases, vice what pains.” Newman’s caution from Discourse V echoes here Discourse VIII:

Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.

The best school and the best teachers do not guarantee the moral or religious outcomes of students. Only conversion of heart, humility, pursuit of virtue, and the infusion of the divine virtues of faith, hope and love can transform and develop human potential to the full. For this, we desperately need Christ’s Church and the Sacraments. Newman wrote hundreds of pages extolling the goodness of natural formation in education; yet he equally cautions the dangers of trusting human formation to the exclusion of divine grace and religious commitments. Discourse VIII offers good questions for self-examination as we approach the new school year:

  • Do I mistakenly think that my child’s school can “fix” him or her?
  • Do I neglect my child’s moral and religious formation under the false assumption that they can be guaranteed by a school or academic system? 
  • Do I uncritically accept educational slogans and media, or do I spend time personally investigating the quality of my child’s education?
  • Do I take time to get to know my child’s teachers, discerning their knowledge, integrity, and faithfulness? 
  • Do I personally nurture my child’s love for God and neighbor, and their excitement to grow in intellect, virtue, and faith?
  • Do I, as a parent, see myself as a “primary educator” of my child, as the Church teaches I am, even as I entrust them to others during the school day?
  • Do I do what I can, with my limited means and gifts, to support the integration of intellect, faith and morals in my children, community, Church, and world?

Schools can do a lot for our children. They might encourage or discourage morals and faith, but they are not the source of morals and faith, and students cannot achieve full maturation without the full integration of faith and morals in family, community, and the Church. Newman wants an education that fits minds for this world while preparing souls for the next. With his wisdom, example, and intercessions, we can seek to achieve, as best as possible in our unique contexts, full integration of mind, heart, and soul for the next generation. 

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There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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